Supreme Court On Appeal from Superior Court, Windham Unit,
Criminal Division December Term, 2018 Katherine A. Hayes, J.
Tartter, Deputy State's Attorney, Montpelier, for
Matthew Valerio, Defender General, and Rebecca Turner,
Appellate Defender, Montpelier, for Defendant-Appellant.
PRESENT: Reiber, C.J., Skoglund, Robinson and Eaton, JJ., and
Howard, Supr. J. (Ret.), Specially Assigned
1. Defendant Robin O'Neill appeals from a jury conviction
for aggravated murder of her ex-fiancé and his son.
She argues that the evidence was insufficient to support the
conviction; that her statements to police should have been
suppressed because they were the product of custodial
interrogation without an attorney after she invoked her right
to one; and that those statements should have been suppressed
because the police coerced her into making them, depriving
her of due process. We hold that the evidence sufficiently
and fairly supports the conviction; and that the statements
defendant seeks to suppress were not made in response to
police interrogation, and were not the product of police
coercion, and thus were properly admitted. Accordingly, we
2. The evidence at trial, viewed in the light most favorable
to the State, reflected the following. Defendant and Steven
Lott began a relationship in early 2014. She subsequently
moved into his house, and they got engaged that July.
3. In September 2014, Steven's neighbor and friend, who
lived part-time in California, returned to Vermont. Steven
began spending a lot of time at her house, which upset
defendant. Throughout that fall, defendant and Steven argued
about their relationship and about Steven's relationship
with neighbor. Defendant considered moving out of the house.
4. That October, defendant threatened and physically hurt
Steven, and when Steven would visit neighbor, defendant would
at times follow him. Defendant wrote in her diary on October
27, "I got pretty drunk. S down to [neighbor's]. I
knocked on dr; not let in. Listened window - basement. S said
I threatened to kill him." Defendant's diary
reflected that on October 25 she discussed with Steven that
she "had hit him on [the] head with firewood."
Neighbor testified that around late October, Steven came to
her house and seemed unfocused and distressed; she thought at
the time he might have a head injury. After neighbor touched
Steven's head to see if he was injured, she heard tapping
on the storm door, and when they called out to ask who it
was, they heard a female voice speak but could not make out
the words. Neighbor testified that Steven opened the door,
then quickly slammed it. Neighbor heard a car drive away.
Around that time, defendant told one of Steven's friends
that she had gone down to neighbor's house and stood
under a window, listening to Steven and neighbor talking.
Defendant said she heard neighbor tell Steven that he needed
"to get rid of her."
5. In early November, defendant told her friend Mike that her
engagement with Steven was off.
6. In the late afternoon of Saturday, November 15, Steven
went to neighbor's house to fix her vacuum and remained
there for several hours. While he was there, their friend Rob
dropped by neighbor's house and visited. Rob testified
that while he was there, he saw defendant drive past the
house six times.
7. Sometime that same Saturday, Steven hit defendant, causing
bruises to her shoulder, legs, arm, head, and buttocks. Late
that night, Steven went to neighbor's house. Neighbor and
her daughter testified that he appeared disheveled and
scared. He said he had been in bed arguing with defendant
when she rolled over and reached for a drawer in her bedside
table. He leapt up, grabbed clothes, and fled. Neighbor's
daughter asked what was in the bedside table, and Steven
replied, "I don't know, and I didn't want to
8. On Sunday, November 16, witnesses who were driving by
neighbor's house saw defendant walking around behind the
house, then saw Steven drive quickly up to it. Around that
time, Steven told defendant he wanted her out of the house.
9. On Tuesday, November 18, defendant told a number of people
that Steven had hit her. In response, her coworker urged her
to report it. Defendant responded that she wasn't
"going to do that, because it was never going to happen
again." Defendant then angrily told her coworker about
Steven's sexual failings and the resulting impact on
their relationship. Later, when defendant told an
acquaintance about the assault, she also told the
acquaintance that Steven had said he should have married
neighbor. Defendant also told the acquaintance that she
planned to move out of the house.
10. In the afternoon of Tuesday, November 18, defendant began
to drink. When Steven's friend Morgan came over in the
late afternoon, he found Steven, his son Jamis, and defendant
sitting and talking in the kitchen area. Morgan testified
that defendant told him she was not with Steven anymore,
tried to kiss him, and asked if he wanted to have sex. He
declined, and defendant went upstairs. Morgan said it sounded
like she started breaking things. He did not see any guns in
the kitchen area, although this was not surprising as he knew
that Steven kept his guns upstairs.
11. At around 7:00 or 7:30 that evening, neighbor received
three calls. Each time, the caller said nothing and hung up.
Caller ID showed that one of the calls was from Steven's
house; the other two numbers were blocked.
12. At 7:54, defendant called an acquaintance, Kristina, but
did not say anything, then hung up. Kristina called back and
someone picked up the phone but did not speak.
13. At 8:01, defendant called her sister and told her that
Steven had hit her, and that she might be going to stay at a
friend's house. She sounded stressed, rushed, and a
little embarrassed, but not intoxicated. While they were
speaking, defendant got another call, so her sister hung up
14. The other caller was Kristina. Kristina asked if Steven
was there. Defendant laughed and said no. They had a confused
conversation, then defendant said she was on the phone with
her sister and hung up. At 8:26, defendant called Kristina
again; they had another brief and confused conversation in
which defendant apologized for not being able to speak
earlier because her sister was on the line. They hung up, and
then at 8:38 defendant called back again and they had the
exact same conversation.
15. At 8:48, defendant called her friend Mike. She asked him
to take her dog, and when he asked what the problem was, she
said, "I just shot Steve and Jamis." She went on,
"I did it, I really did it. I just shot Steve and Jamis
dead." Mike asked where they were, and she said,
"Steve's by my feet in a pool of blood and Jamis is
under the table in his own pool of blood." Mike
testified that defendant sounded as though she had been
drinking. When they hung up, he called the police.
16. Defendant's sister called her back at 8:58. Defendant
picked up and said, "I shot them, I think they're
dead, there's blood, there's so much blood. And I
don't know how I managed." Her sister asked her why
she did it, and defendant said in a sad, confused voice,
"I don't know." At that point, she heard police
and the call ended.
17. When police arrived on the scene, they called defendant
out of the house. She came out, ...